Billy Graham preached to more people, in more countries, and saw more converts, than anyone else in history. He also gathered the largest live audience (1.1m) of any preacher.
With stats like these, it is often assumed that Billy Graham’s sole focus was on the need to be ‘born again’. If he addressed any other need, it was for more professional preachers, evangelists, and missionaries to carry this message.
He did indeed consistently emphasise both these needs. But throughout his vast publication output, he placed far more emphasis on ‘whole-life discipleship’ than is generally assumed. Indeed, living the Christian life wherever believers find themselves was a constant theme throughout his ministry. He wrote, for instance:
God wants to use you right where you are. Every day you probably come in contact with people who will never enter a church, or talk with a pastor, or open a Bible – and God wants to use you to point them to Christ.
In numerous other writings he stressed the dignity of work, the need to live the Christian life 24/7, and that there should ‘no discrepancy between our walk and our talk’. ‘Becoming a Christian’, he wrote, ‘is the work of a moment; being a Christian is the work of a lifetime’.
He challenged people to pray for their colleagues and to empathise with their struggles. They should also model integrity: ‘Christians should be known in their neighbourhoods or places of business as honest people’.
Some ‘professional’ missionaries, after catching Billy Graham’s vision for an all-encompassing faith, have decided to change course. Opting to pursue a wider mission in ‘secular’ employment, they have found the effectiveness of their witness has been enhanced.
Their experience makes Christ’s great commission to ‘make disciples of all nations’ start to look achievable. At a time when, in some nations, mission giving is in decline, it presents a sustainable model of mission that is not dependent on donations.
There will still be a place for ‘professional’ missionaries and for large-scale evangelistic events of the sort Billy Graham championed. Communicators are also still needed with his clarity, conviction, and integrity.
But the challenge for most of us, in our daily lives, is to pick up the prophetic mantle he has laid down and to rise to his claim: ‘I believe one of the next great moves of God is going to be through the believers in the workplace.’
Peter is a senior fellow at the University of Cambridge and Director of Transforming Business.